I’ll take the train, thanks.

You’ve seen the cell phone video of a paying passenger getting dragged out of a United Airlines flight to Kentucky, to make way for crew members who needed to get to another flight.

It’s not a pretty picture.

You’ve seen the Jimmy Kimmel spoof ad (or you should)

I’m fascinated with this story, and here’s why.

It’s small enough to wrap my mind around. As everyone’s second-favorite butchering dictator of the 20th century, Josef Stalin, once said: “One death is a tragedy. One million deaths is a statistic.” We can sympathize with one person, and see ourselves in their shoes. Too many people, though, and we get burned out and overwhelmed. Thousands of people getting forcibly removed by ICE is not something we can relate to. A paying passenger getting dragged out while everyone records it on their camera is grist for the mill.

I hate the airlines. We all do. They’ve earned our hatred. It’s a cutthroat business, and they have demonstrated time and again that they’re the ones cutting the throats. Expenses are mostly due to jet fuel, equipment, and service – but airlines make up the shortfall by nickel and diming us at every turn. Ryan Air even makes you pay to take a whaz. Now that’s just wrong.

It’s a horror story. I love horror stories (but not slasher movies). People listen with rapt attention when you tell them. Here are some more.

That guy stood up for what was right. We’ve all been fed up for years, but Dr. Dao was brave enough, professional enough, desperate enough, or crazy enough (hard to tell which) to take a stand and lie down. He point-blank refused to leave. And why should he? He paid for the seat, and he was sitting in it.  The airline threatened, as they have so often before, and he called their bluff.  He’s the first guy who meant it when he said “they’ll need to drag me off, kicking and screaming.”

Set camera on “stun”

It shows, once again, the power technology has to change society. That camera in your pocket has started and stopped revolutions, taken down dictators, exposed corruption, and uncovered injustice. Seeing is believing.

It’s proof that the idiots are in charge. Well, that’s not quite fair. I’ll rephrase it like this: it demonstrates the blinders-on, narrow-minded, spineless waffling, take-no-responsibility mindset that controls most corporations. It’s not that all employees are stupid (though some are). It’s not that all bosses are greedy (though some are). Here’s the problem: corporate “leaders” talk one way and act another. They talk about grand plans, “core values”, and listening to their customers, but they focus on this month’s numbers. Hell, they’re judged by this month’s numbers. They mouth the company lines about “customers first” but time after time, they show what really counts. And it’s the bottom line.

Not idiots … just corporate drones.

Where are the adults in the room, keeping everyone focused on the bigger picture? The front-line employees know that they can ignore every “President’s Town Hall” and every HR training video they see, because if they don’t get four people off the plane RIGHT NOW, they might lose their jobs. Their boss’s boss’s boss has made it clear that if they can’t show relentless cutting of costs and raising of revenue, they’re toast. That’s why they focus on the small and immediate (getting Dr. Dao off the plane), and lose sight of the big picture: a completely preventable, nuclear PR disaster that’s going to hurt the whole company in a big way.

Come to think of it, global climate change is the same thing.

Where’s the part where the cops drag you off the chart?

It demonstrates basic economics. Let’s rewind the whole ugly story, shall we? We start as the flight attendant announces “We need four passengers to volunteer to leave this flight before we can take off.” In an alternate universe, where the law of supply and demand is understood, it plays out like this:

“You’ll get coupons worth 10 dollars in the food court. Do I hear any takers? No? A travel voucher for $400? Yes sir, thank you! Right this way. Three to go. A travel voucher for $400? $600? $750?  Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Vacationer! Only one more to go. Do I hear a thousand? In cash? Two thousand? Ten thousand?”

That would have worked. Hell, even the pilot might reconsider for a big enough cash bonus. Is ten thousand in cash too much for the airline to offer for one seat on an overbooked flight? Yes. Is there anyone in United corporate headquarters who wouldn’t gladly pay that amount out of their own pocket right this minute to have the problem disappear like it never happened? They’d do it in a heartbeat.

They’d pay a thousand times that sum, because they know they’ve lost more revenue from this one incident than from all the fuel price rises and union negotiations in the last 10 years put together.


And last, but not least,

That’s because Time Warner smacked you off your recliner.

It give us something to get outraged about that doesn’t involve politics, graft, disease, or corpses. What a refreshing treat!  If we get lucky, maybe next week Time Warner – sorry, Spectrum — will be caught smacking a crocheting, grey-haired grandma right out of her recliner for not paying her inflated “premium package” bill on time.

Here’s hoping.

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